Rescuing a firehouse

January 28, 2007

Rotary Club raises $350,000 in cash, services to renovate La Jolla station

By Jeanette Steele​SIGN ON SAN DIEGOStaff Writer

January 28, 2007

People have walked into Fire Station 13 and asked, in disbelief, “You really live here?”

Once, when San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders visited, he opened a door expecting to see the rest of the station, but it opened to the outdoors.

Despite its La Jolla address, the cramped, outdated station was never going to make Architectural Digest.

So, some La Jollans got together to change that, raising $350,000 in cash and donated services to gut and renovate the firehouse built in the 1970s as a temporary site.

“I went out there and I just couldn’t believe how bad the conditions were compared to elsewhere,” said Trip Bennett of the La Jolla Sunrise Rotary Club, which led the fundraising campaign.

Construction just started, and it is expected to take four months to replace the facade, build individual bedrooms and add 400 square feet to the small station on Nautilus Street.

The whole thing started when the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department approached Councilman Scott Peters, who represents La Jolla. A fire official wondered if a few thousand dollars could be found to replace missing and broken window screens.

“I was lucky I made the call to that guy,” Peters said. “He decided he wanted to take it on himself.”

“I thought, ‘Man, they need so much more than that,’ ” Peters said, describing his reaction to seeing the place. He telephoned his friend Bennett, a La Jolla architect, and asked him to eyeball the firehouse.

The 50-member Rotary club raised $250,000 in cash and persuaded La Jolla professionals to donate $100,0000 in labor, such as contracting and engineering services.

They raised funds in the name of Jack Morse, a member who died in 2004 when his Mount Soledad home caught fire, said Rotary president Brendan Ruff. Station 13 responded to the blaze and rescued Morse, 81, but he later died from the burns he suffered.

The renovation money wouldn’t have surfaced any other way, fire officials said.

San Diego’s 46 fire stations need $13 million in deferred maintenance and improvements that are nowhere in the city budget, said Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Frazier.

“I could tell you horror story after horror story,” Frazier said.

Officials said it is the first time a firehouse has received such an overhaul with private funds.

At Station 13, one problem was that three firefighters – regardless of gender – were sandwiched into one bedroom.

Lockers were used as privacy partitions, and firefighters had to wedge cardboard above the lockers to dampen the sound of snoring and the glare from bedside reading lamps.

James Barnett, the station’s captain, said his crew is grateful for the makeover, which will include a donated big-screen, high-definition television.

“These people are treating us like royalty,” Barnett said.



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